As the Dolphins take the field for the first time in 7 months and 13 days (Hmm, any significance in those numbers, superstitious fans?), there are several story lines and positions worth monitoring as they gear up for the for-real games starting September 10th in Atlanta.
#1: Which player will rise up to claim the starting cornerback position opposite Will Allen?
Head Coach Tony Sparano has made it no secret that the "So You Think You Can Start?" sweepstakes is about to make its television debut and features a battle between highly-drafted rookies Vontae Davis, Sean Smith and veteran free agent acquisition Eric Green.
Unlike a largely scripted reality TV show, this competition will be won simply by the man who makes the most plays on the field and in camp during the next several weeks. The competition begins in earnest tomorrow night when each player will be given the opportunity to show their wares against opponents in a live game situation for the first time.
Outside of veteran Torry Holt, the Jags don't have many receiving weapons, unless you consider Troy "No Hands" Williamson a receiving threat, which this video surely proves otherwise. So this should not be much of a test for the trio of CB contestants.
If any of them allow for a big play by catch-challenged Williamson, they will face humiliation at the hands of a despondent British has-been on the judging panel. Wait, wrong show. They will feel the wrath of someone much more fearsome - Coach Tony Sparano. And likely a demotion as well.
#2: Is there depth at Nose Tackle?
In my opinion, this position holds the key to the entire season. If Jason Ferguson can remain healthy and effective, the defensive unit should be able to improve from last year's largely impressive performance to become one of the league's best. However, if anything should happen to Big Ferg, and no man is able to fill his massive shoes, the Dolphins defense could turn into leaky spaghetti strainer overnight.
The only insurance policy that the Dolphins really have on the dogged old vet is one of the last remaining artifacts of the Cam Cameron regime - Paul Soliai. At 6'4 and weighing in at an impressive 355 lbs., Soliai has the build necessary to man the keystone position on the defense. However, throughout his career in Miami, Soliai has remained an enigmatic presence. The coaches tend to break into song, performing a stirring rendition of Katy Perry's "Hot n' Cold", whenever they speak about the Samoan defensive tackle. He's hot and he's cold, he's up and he's down, he's in and he's out. If Soliai had wondrous cleavage like Ms. Perry, I might be more forgiving of his inconsistent performance, but alas he does not.
In addition to Soliai, the Dolphins hope that Randy Starks might be able to help fill the important role. Unfortunately, large sports utility vehicles filled to capacity with scantidly clad women are not eligible to assist him on the field of play.
Look for Soliai and Starks to get plenty of work tomorrow and throughout the preseason as the Dolphins will try to save the elder Ferguson for the regular season.
#3: The future of the Phins on display
Monday night might be our first real glimpse at the future of the Miami Dolphins - 2010 and beyond. Perhaps there is no more important piece of that promising future than one Chad Henne. Sparano has stated several times that Henne will receive quite a bit of work during the preseason in order to see how he handles things such as halftime adjustments and other dramatic scenarios that arise during an entire NFL game. Henne will receive plenty of work with the first team offense, allowing Dolphins fans to get their first real look at the offense of the future.
In addition to Chad Henne, the Dolphins faithful might also catch a sneak peak of Wildcat 2.0 or the WildPat / WhiteCat offense. It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins coaching staff will tip their hand during the preseason on how they might utilize their multi-purpose player, but the fans and media will be craving some kind of White Wildcat action. Even if he doesn't make his debut in the Dolphins' signature offensive set on Monday, White will see plenty of action at QB where he will likely play during the entire 4th quarter.
There will be a variety of rookies and young players making major contributions versus the Jaguars. It will be our first real look at players we all hope will become stars and major contributors for the Dolphins in the next few years. With exciting new players like Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Pat Turner, and Cameron Wake to look out for, this should be quite an entertaining game for those hoping to see what the future has in store for the Miami Dolphins. Who knows, maybe VD2 might even make an appearance...
So which player are you most looking forward to seeing in the Dolphins' first preseason game?